HALIFAX – It’s among Atlantic Canada’s largest industrial sites — a massive former wind tower manufacturing plant developed with $56 million in provincial funding.
But with the clock ticking on a provincial deadline to find a buyer, optimism is low that the former DSME Trenton plant will re-open as a major employer.
In an interview Wednesday, Trenton Mayor Shannon MacInnis said while the town is “crossing its fingers” for a last-minute sale, it has never been approached with a solid business plan by any prospective buyer for the plant.
MacInnis said he has been told by a “few different sources” that there is a bid in on the plant, however he doesn’t know how serious it is.
“There has been one for quite awhile, from what I’m told,” he said. “Whether or not that goes forward or not, maybe that’s the reason why they (the province) keep extending the deadline, hoping the bid ends up going through.”
Last week, Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said the province’s deadline for a decision on the Trenton plant had been pushed back for a second time to around the end of June.
But MacLellan was coy about whether there are any serious business bids for the plant — a 430,000-square-foot facility that sits on 116 acres of land in the heart of Trenton and in another incarnation was the TrentonWorks rail car plant.
He said while the receiver has said nothing formal has come forward, that simply means there is no potential agreement or suggestion of a first payment by an interested buyer.
“For us there are a number of conversations … there’s multiple sectors that are having discussions about what this could be, so we just want to give it every opportunity,” MacLellan said.
Plant receiver PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) did not return a request for comment.
MacLellan has also mused about eventually turning the property over to Nova Scotia Lands for development. On Wednesday, Stephen MacIsaac, the provincial Crown corporation’s president and CEO, said in an email: “We are not involved with the site at the present time and awaiting direction.”
The province is the primary secured creditor for the plant, which was closed in February 2016 and placed in receivership.
Operations concluded less than a month after the province said it wouldn’t provide any more public money for a plant that had hoped to develop the capacity to produce 250 wind turbine towers and 200 blade sets per year.
The first round of bids for the property were abandoned later in 2016 after the province rejected three, including two of only $1. A second round of bids has also failed to produce a buyer.
The previous NDP government announced in 2010 that it had a deal with Korean firm Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Ltd. and would take a 49-per-cent equity stake in the firm. It committed up to $59.4 million to the manufacturing plant and predicted 500 jobs would be created within three years.
But the optimistically predicted job levels never materialized for a plant that was touted as the successor to TrentonWorks, which was closed in 2007 by Oregon-based Greenbrier Inc. with the loss of about 300 jobs. At its peak the rail car plant which had been existence for decades under several different owners employed 1,400 workers.
MacInnis was also mayor during the period TrentonWorks closed. He said whatever is done with the plant this time around, it needs to have a “taxable entity” that can help the town of 2,500 to thrive.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow losing all those jobs and having your tax base set back quite a bit, he said. “It leaves your hands tied as to basically what you can do when your main industry is not taxable any more.”